"It's good to remember the dead," said Lizzie Rose. "My mother and father died of diphtheria a year and a half ago. It makes me sorrowful to remember them, but it's good, too. I think of my father when I practice my music, because he taught me to play. And I sleep with my mother's Bible under my pillow. I have her ice skates and a pair of coral earrings set in gold. Of course, I'm too young to pierce my ears, so Mr. Grisini is taking care of them for me. But he'll let me have them when I'm sixteen."
Parsefall snorted. He had a very good idea how Grisini had taken care of Lizzie Rose's earrings. He'd seen the ticket from the pawnshop. He pointed to the teapot, and Clara reached for it. "Would you like another cup of tea?"
Both children accepted. Parsefall saw one piece of toast remaining, broke it in half, and gave part to Lizzie Rose. Lizzie Rose rolled her eyes at him to signal that this was bad manners, but Parsefall didn't care.
Clara took her last sip of tea she hadn't had any toast, Parsefall noticed. Her eyes strayed to the puppet theatre.
"Would you like to see the puppets?" Lizzie Rose asked, and Clara's face lit up. "Come and see."
The children left the table Parsefall with a piece of toast between his fingers. "We carry them in bags to keep them clean," Lizzie Rose explained proudly; the calico bags had been her own invention. "The fog makes everything dirty. Before the show, we unwrap them and hang them on the rack "
"The gallows," Parsefall corrected her. He grinned ghoulishly at Clara. "It's called the gallows. We 'ang 'em on the gallows, just like men." But Clara was too intrigued to be squeamish.
"We have to set them up just so, because it's dark under the curtain," said Lizzie Rose. "I make their costumes Grisini can sew as well as I can, but he doesn't like to. I just made a new frock for Little Red Riding Hood isn't she pretty?"
Clara admired the puppet with her hands behind her back.
She looked as if she were used to being told not to touch things.
Lizzie Rose had an inspiration. "Would you like to work Little Red? You hold her by the crutch that's the wooden bit at the end and pull the strings."
Clara dangled the puppet. Timidly she jerked a string. One wooden leg kicked.
"The hardest thing is making them walk," Lizzie Rose told her. "It's easy to make the fantoccini dance, but hard to make them walk isn't that funny? I still float them sometimes that's what we call it when their feet don't touch the floor. That's a sign of a bad worker. Let Parsefall show you."
Parsefall took the Devil from the gallows and made him saunter toward Clara. The manikin had joints at the ankles; he walked with a swagger, but his wooden feet brushed the carpet with every step. Clara squeaked with delight and clapped her hands.
"Grisini and Parsefall do the figure working," Lizzie Rose explained. "I play the music. I'm not good enough to work the fantoccini, unless Grisini and Parsefall have their hands full. But Parsefall's good." She laid a hand on Parsefall's shoulder.
"Parsefall has magic in his fingers."
Clara looked at Parsefall's hands. She gave a faint start.
Parsefall understood why. His fingers were clever enough, but there were only nine of them. The little finger on his right hand was missing. There was no scar, nothing ugly to see. It was just that the little finger was not there. Parsefall didn't know what had become of it. He was almost certain he had once had ten fingers, and it tormented him that he couldn't remember what had become of the one he lost.
"You're so clever," Clara said admiringly. "Both of you. You know how to make the wagon into a stage, and play music, and work the puppets." She sighed. "I wish I could do things."
Excerpted from Splendors and Glooms by Laura A Schlitz. Copyright © 2012 by Laura A Schlitz. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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